When I decided to go baking school, I knew nothing about bread, and wasn’t particularly passionate about it. (I mean, it’s not cake.) Still, I enrolled in a baking program with a heavy focus on bread, and spent the better part of 10 months baking thousands of loaves. Why? Because the science and technique behind making bread will make you a better
Let’s talk about some bread baking tools. This is not a complete list by any means, and I’m not suggesting that you need to run out and buy these things tomorrow. Take a look, see what you’ve got, put the other stuff on your wish list.
Tools I can’t live without when baking bread:
Scale. A scale will help with measuring ingredients accurately, scaling/portioning the dough, and is handy when adjusting recipe quantities. (Ever tried measuring 5/8 of a tablespoon? Cripes! Grams are way easier.) When baking multiple loaves, those that are equally portioned will finish baking at the same time and prevent fights over who gets the bigger loaf. Digital scales are the easiest to use, and need not cost a lot of money. Pair this purchase with some small baggies, and you’ll be in the market for making new friends.
Thermometer. Thermometers are invaluable when checking the temperature of liquids for yeast (generally 110°F), and checking your bread for doneness (baked bread will need to be 195-210°F, depending on type). Digital thermometers are easy to read and very accurate. Checking the internal temperature of bread is the easiest way to ensure your bread is fully cooked. A deeply browned loaf can sometimes be deceiving – bread that looks fully baked can still be undercooked on the inside. Under-baked bread will taste doughy, and tends to collapse on itself. Over-baked bread will be tough and dry. Neither will win you a ribbon at the county fair.
Stand mixer. A good stand mixer can’t be beat. Both the paddle and bread hook attachments will get a workout, and a motor with oomph will make your job a lot easier.
Bowl Scraper. It scrapes bowls. Especially handy when working with sticky doughs.
Bench Scraper/Dough Cutter. Makes portioning dough easy and scrapes gunk off counters. It’s also very handy for smoothing icing on cakes.
Spice jar with sprinkle lid (probably not the technical name). For sprinkling flour on your countertop or dough. (Also handy for flouring cake pans.) You’ve probably got one in the spice cupboard. Throw out that weird seasoning you haven’t used in 15 years and put that jar to good use. FIY, we didn’t use these at baking school. There is a technique to covering your bench with flour – it involves flinging. I’ll show you sometime.
Spray bottle. I bought my spray bottle at the Dollar Store. Some silky doughs like a little spray of water when rolling. Also handy for spraying oven walls when baking artisan breads. I wouldn’t bother getting one of these unless you’ve got a recipe requests it specifically. Heck, you could just use the bottle you spray the cat with when she’s treating your couch like a giant pincushion.
Lame. These blades make fancy cuts (scores) in breads (artisan and hearth breads, baguettes). Scoring is done right before baking, as you are about to load the oven. Lames are very sharp. Be careful: they care not who they cut. Again, don’t buy one until you need one. A very sharp serrated knife can also be used.
You can also buy proofing baskets/bannetons, baking stones, loaf pans and other fancy pants stuff, but I don’t recommend buying anything like that until you decide if bread baking is for you. These items can be pricy.
Proofer. Your yeast beast will perform at its best in a warm, moist environment. I live in an old house. My kitchen is cold and dry in the winter. Bread won’t proof (rise) if I simply leave it on the counter, so I fake a proofer. A few minutes before my dough is ready for proofing, I turn my oven on for about 60 seconds at 150°F, and then turn it off – that way my dough will have a slightly-above-room-temperature environment to grow in. Don’t overdo it – I can’t stress this enough. When my dough is ready for it’s first proof, I place it in a bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and then place it in the oven. I then fill a metal bowl with boiled water, and set it beside or under the bread, to keep the oven warm and humid. I check the oven during the proofing process and refresh the boiled water if necessary. In warm months, I don’t find this necessary. So if your kitchen is cozy, you can simply cover your dough with a dish towel, and skip the DIY proofer.